The holidays are a time for reflecting on things, and what a good excuse to reflect on the state of the various Illinois sports teams. With mens' and womens' basketball in full force right now, we'll start there.
John Groce has his squad at 9-2 on the season, but they could very easily be 10-1 with the tough loss in Atlanta to Georgia Tech. The Illini dropped another close game last Saturday evening in Portland, Oregon to the Oregon Ducks, and with final exams wrapping up on the campus, have been idle since that game. The Illini head down to St. Louis on Saturday at the Scottrade Center for the annual Braggin' Rights game against the Tigers of Missouri (4:30 pm CT, ESPN2). The Tigers are 10-0 on the season, and like the Illini, have a lot of new players on the roster. This is one of the more intriguing matchups all season, due to the nature of the game. It is literally 50/50 split between Illinois and Missouri fans, and the fact that they meet in the Gateway City makes it even better. Plus, the atmosphere is incredible as well. If you haven't been before, I strongly suggest you try and attend one of these, because you will not be disappointed.
Matt Bollant also has his team playing through the holidays, although not quite as successful as their counterparts on the mens' side. The Illini are currently 6-5 on the season, and recently snapped a 3 game losing streak with a come from behind 71-70 win over Seton Hall. The Illini haven't played in 12 days, so the time off has been a good thing for both Bollant and the players. The Illini return to action on Saturday afternoon when they welcome Tennessee-Martin to the State Farm Center (2:00 pm CT, No TV).
The Fighting Illini volleyball team saw their season come to an end last weekend in the Regional Semifinals at the State Farm Center in Champaign, as they were defeated by Big Ten rival Purdue 3-0. The Illini finish the season 18-15 overall, and even though they didn't reach their goal of making the Final Four, the latter part of the season was one where they played much better and put themselves in position to play at home in not only the first and second rounds, but the Regional as well. That was worth all they went through in itself.
Even though the football season is over for the Fighting Illini, the team is still making news, and in a good way. Junior College and early enrollment signing day was this past Wednesday, and head coach Tim Beckman is addressing some needs with some players with quite a bit of experience. Among them are a couple of twins, Tyrin and Tyree Stone-Davis, who will give depth at a couple of positions. Mike Dudek, a wide receiver from Neuqua Valley HS in Naperville, will hope to fill the void left by Steve Hull and Ryan Lankford, both whom won't be back next year. All told, 9 players will join the Illini family in January. A couple other players have verbally committed to the Illini, and could possibly sign in February when national letter of intent (NLI) day arrives. Also, offensive coordinator Bill Cubit was signed to an extension through 2015, meaning he will lead that unit when Wes Lunt assumes the quarterbacking duties with the departure of Nathan Scheelhasse.
That's a wrap on 2013. Happy Holidays everyone!